A MONEY launderer who arranged to transport £104 million in illegally obtained cash to Dubai has been jailed after a hearing at Isleworth Crown Court. Abdulla Mohammad Ali Bin Beyat Alfalasi, aged 47, pleaded guilty to removing criminal property from England and Wales contrary to Section 327(1) of the Proceeds of Crime Act on 27 June 2022 and has been sentenced to nine years and seven months behind bars.
Alfalasi arranged a service designed to transport cash (which was the proceeds of crime) out of England and Wales. In terms of the method used to do this, suitcases were each filled with around £500,000 in cash. Alfalasi or a courier would then fly business class to Dubai, which allowed increased baggage allowance. They would check in as late as possible to avoid detection.
The cash would be declared on arrival, supported by a letter from a company owned by Alfalasi stating that the couriers were authorised to carry this amount of money. Cash was transported in this way on at least 83 occasions, first by Alfalasi and then by various ‘couriers’ whom he had recruited for the job.
Group of couriers
Among Alfalasi’s couriers were 55-year-old Nicola Esson, from Leeds, who was arrested following National Crime Agency raids in May last year, and 29-year-old Muhammad Ilyas, from Slough, who was apprehended in February 2020.
Esson travelled from Heathrow to Dubai on three occasions in August and September 2020, checking in 19 suitcases with a combined weight of almost half a tonne. She returned a few days after each trip with the same baggage items, which weighed significantly less each time.
Ilyas was arrested by National Crime Agency officers at Heathrow Airport after arriving on a flight from Dubai. He had checked in four suitcases at the airport ten days earlier, one of which had gone missing, and declared almost £1.5 million in cash to Dubai Customs. The missing suitcase was subsequently found by Border Force officers and contained £431,360 in cash.
Esson and Ilyas and Alfalasi have pleaded guilty to money laundering charges and will be sentenced in due course. Two other couriers linked to the same network have already been jailed following investigations by the National Crime Agency.
Tara Hanlon, 31, from Leeds, was detained by Border Force at Heathrow in October 2020 as she attempted to leave the country with suitcases containing almost £2 million. She later admitted smuggling another £3.5 million out of the UK on other trips and was sentenced to 34 months# imprisonment in July 2021.
Czech national Zdenek Kamaryt, 39, was also stopped at Heathrow in November 2020. He was attempting to board a flight to Dubai carrying £1.4 million. Kamaryt pleaded guilty to three counts of money laundering and was sentenced to 34 months’ imprisonment in March last year.
Building the case
Alfalasi set up a company, Omnivest, specifically to legitimise the funds. Letters on the company notepaper were used to legitimise the cash transportation.
When Alfalasi was arrested by officers from the National Crime Agency, three phones were recovered containing numerous messages between him and others talking about the collection, consolidation and movement of the cash.
The phones also contained pictures of suitcases filled with cash, a read-out from a money counting machine and an itinerary for one courier’s journey, with Alfalasi checking in at every stage of the process to ensure the money was delivered safely to Dubai.
Credit cards were also recovered from Alfalasi’s home. Those cards had been used to buy the flight tickets.
John Werhun of the Crown Prosecution Service explained: “This is one of the largest money laundering cases the Crown Prosecution Service has ever prosecuted. A colossal amount of dirty money was transported to Dubai under Alfalasi’s instructions. The evidence presented against him was overwhelming, with invoices, declaration documents and images of cash-filled suitcases pointing to his culpability.”
Arslan Khan, unit head at the Crown Prosecution Service, explained: “Our specialist teams work hard to bring to justice those who seek to benefit from their ill-gotten gains. We have already commenced proceedings to recover the proceeds of crime in this case.”
National Crime Agency senior investigating officer Ian Truby confirmed: “This money laundering network smuggled astronomical sums of money out of the UK. Cash is the lifeblood of organised crime groups. They re-invest it into activities such as drug trafficking, which fuels violence and insecurity around the world. Disrupting the supply of such illicit cash is a priority for ourselves and our partners. We will continue to target cash couriers and hit crime groups in the pocket where it hurts them.”